I spent last weekend writing, talking about writing and listening to people talk about writing. As an attendee of the Chattanooga Festival of Writers, I was reminded of how energizing, fun, and expansive writing can make one’s life.
Saturday began on a rainy note, but my day brightened when playwright Katori Hall asked all the people in her workshop to stand and say proudly: “I am a writer. I am a playwright. I have drama in my soul.”
I became a playwright at that very moment, by the sheer desire and willingness to see myself as one.
The previous morning, I joined this same award winning writer and actress at Tyner Academy. The students there were excited to learn, to grow and to try new things. They were awed by knowledge, travel, art and skill. They tackled the writing assignment with energy, pushing past self-consciousness to read their mini-skits aloud, encouraging each other afterwards. They moved me.
Earlier that week, I watched a documentary called “The Boys of Baraka.” It was about an American school based in Kenya, East Africa that had been recruiting 12-year old at-risk boys from the inner-city of Baltimore for several years. About 78 percent of the males in Baltimore do not graduate from high school, and the school in Africa endeavors to reach these young men away from the influences of their neighborhoods. They learned conflict resolution, worked to improve educational skills and were introduced to a completely different culture.
One boy captured my attention. We first met him outside the apartment he shared with his mother and siblings. He peered out at the street, commenting on the thuggery he saw there daily. He decided to join the Baraka class to have a chance for a different life — away from drugs, gang life, and the void that he felt was his future in Baltimore.
While in Africa, his teachers discovered that he was reading on a second-grade level, and they were appalled that he had never been tested. He was excited to build his reading skills, and through encouragement from teachers he began to write poetry. He read his poem to his class during a talent show, and was met with applause. But when he returned to the United States, he began to slip again. This time his teachers feared he would become a dropout. He had abandoned his writing.
I wonder what would have happened had he continued to express his emotions through the written word. We know that in the movie “Freedom Writers” a teacher used journaling to help her students heal. Their journals revealed the struggles they were facing and would not verbalize. As a result of what they wrote, she was able to connect with them in a way few teachers had.
Many of us are writers without labels. We are like my mother, who writes the most gorgeous letters, or my friend Merlin, who encourages people daily through e-mails sent all over the world.
Writing heals us, gives meaning to our lives, and helps us decipher the madness that is often the best description of our relationships, daily activities and thoughts. Even in its simplest of forms it has great value.